The owners had lived in Europe and loved old buildings, their secrets and surprises. They decided that Georgetown was the perfect place to find the right convergence of a period architecture, space with good “bones” and character that would be a suitable canvas for their creation. Together with their architect, Christian Zapatka, a champion of and expert in period Georgetown buildings, they pursued their quarry.
Their hunt took them through myriad clapboard row houses and brick Georgians until they happened upon their “crumbly cottage,” the dark, dowdy little 1810 Federal that they knew would unfurl into a spacious, light-filled beauty.
The potential lay, in great part, in its semi-detached orientation, with three exposures. Zapatka, an expert in keeping the period aspects of a house intact while giving it a fresh 21st-century makeover, gutted the entire house and then carefully put it back together, weaving together traditional crown molding and woodwork and reclaimed hardwood flooring, with updated lighting and modern space planning.
His greatest challenge was to create another entire level of livable space. Typically attics yield a treasure trove of reclaimable space, but in this case, it needed to be squeezed out from a four-foot earthen, windowless crawl space. His team dug deep, moving another five feet of earth, much of it by hand. Changing an earthen dungeon into a inviting living area is a challenge, and not every basement is a good candidate for finishing. Key considerations for conversion include controlling moisture, adding ventilation and light, and finding a way around hanging drain lines, ductwork and wiring. Added challenges stem from digging around what was once the original kitchen, judging from the huge masonry fireplace, of a 200-year-old building.
Although many finished basements in old houses are musty, dinghy affairs, proper planning, new products and architectural expertise yielded an additional 600 square feet of living space that includes a gourmet kitchen/family room, an office/guest room, a new full bath and a landscaped yard.
Walls of creamy curly maple cabinets hide a flat screen television and stereo equipment and provide plenty of storage. An open floor plan, a sparkling stainless steel mosaic backsplash, skylights, limestone floors and countertops and abundant high-efficiency windows make one forget that this was once a subterranean space.
Michelle Galler is a realtor with TTR/Sotheby’s International Realty, an interior designer and antiques dealer who resides in Georgetown’s West Village. If you have resolved a George¬town design challenge that would be of inter¬est to our readers, contact Ms. Galler in care of The Georgetowner.
Photographs by Amy Snyder Photography